Food is my life. My fascination with it began at a very young age and my childhood memories of it are profound.
I am fifty-six years old and thousands of miles away from the little town in Northern Italy where I grew up, but walking in the Farmer’s Market during Springtime and seeing fresh pea shoots, snap peas, peas of any kind instantly takes me back in time and place. I am a young boy again and back in my mother’s garden picking peas for her delicious risi e bisi.
Risi e bisi, which in the Veneto dialect it means rice and peas. Veneto is in Northern Italy and is where I am from.
Risi e bisi is as much a comfort food to me as mashed potatoes and gravy might be to an American. What is comfort food? Memory, love and home all tucked into a single bite.
In Italy, risi e bisi is served a la onda which means of a certain consistency that kind of rolls like a wave. It doesn’t stand firm, it just kind of rolls if you move the flat plate it is served on. Usually, it is served after the prosciutto – an appetizer in small quantity before the main dish.
When I was a little boy, I always wanted more. I would go over to the pot on the stove and peer into it, hoping and perhaps even scraping the edges to get that last taste. There was just something about that bright green color, the rich and creamy texture and Springlike taste that kept me craving it and coming back for more.
Now, at home, I am not constrained by convention, tradition or even a restaurant’s tight plating. Here, I can have all the risi e bisi I want. If I were serving it on my menu at the restaurant, I would stick to tradition and make it an appetizer, but now, in these first days of the glorious Spring, I make enough for a full meal.